I'm a fairly big gamer, but I've never quite gotten into MMO's. The combat has rarely captivated me, and I don't enjoy grinding my way up experience trees.

That being said, I'm a HUGE Lord of the Rings fan, and therefore I've considered playing Lord of the Rings Online on several occasions. To be honest, I don't even care to level up very much, I'd mostly just like to be able to wander around the world. I want to be able to stroll through the Shire, explore the backalleys of Bree, roam the plains of Rohan, etc. I'd happily play a merchant or something similar, giving up combat for the ability to trade and build up my gold chest and explore the world as I go.

I started trying to play it one time, with a Dwarf character, but I found myself being forced along a "tutorial track" that I didn't particularly enjoy, and which greatly restricted my exploration of the world. It heavily emphasized combat and item management and other specific aspects of the gameplay, which were not terribly important to what I was interested in. Very linear, and a lot of handholding and such. I ended up giving up before long, but I've always wondered whether that was just an intro level, a roadblock before the game opened up into what I'd hoped it was.

Is it possible, in Lord of the Rings Online, to simply wander and explore? Does the map open up and allow free movement after the tutorial level(s), or can you only unlock different zones as you level up, or during instance events?

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    Ive played it very casually on a few occasions and although you did not ask about it; may i suggest that you save all the coins (for the real cash store) that you collect so that you can purchase a mount + riding skill to help your exploration experience
    – Vahx
    Jan 28 '15 at 16:50

You can largely explore the world freely. By my recollection, there are only a few points at which you can be gated by some sort of progression. The few that come to mind are Eastern Angmar (must complete a certain epic quest to pass the watching stones), Moria (must complete a portion of the epic quest to open the Doors of Durin), and Caras Galadhon (reputation requirement to enter the city).

These zones can be gated by level as you can only pick up quests a certain number of levels above yours (7, I think) and thus you won't be able to complete them for progression (Angmar, Moria) or reputation gain (Lothlorien). I believe you can get past the Moria restriction by using some sort of summon: hunter port, captain summon, Moria keg, or mustering horn.

The main issue you will have if you're not inclined to level up much or at all is that once there is a large enough gap between the level of the zone and your level, you become an aggro magnet for the enemy NPCs. You should consider doing some questing as the quests will take you to some of those iconic places (e.g. Old Forest, Rivendell, Orthanc, The Argonath) as well as leveling you enough to make your exploration more enjoyable.

Note: Regardless of your status as a VIP (subscriber) or not, you are able to access every zone on the map. Bree, Shire, Ered Luin, and Lone Lands are 100% free for all account types (VIP, Premium, Free). This means you can pick up quests, start/complete deeds, and join instances for those zones. Beyond those zones, the availability of quests, etc. Will be dependent on account type (as part of subscription fee or buying quest pack from the store) or whether the zones were part of a paid expansion (Moria, Isengard, Rohan, Helm's Deep)

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    I believe the reputation requirement was removed from Caras Galadhon, though you still need to get through either Moria or around the Misty Mountains. Apparently folks didn't like getting one-shotted by invisible elven archers. After 3 deaths, even I learned to keep my distance....
    – tjd
    Jan 23 '15 at 16:27

To make it simple and short:

Tuorial level are broing but necessary to go through.

After that you can go wherever you whant. With some restricted areas, but you can if your a lore friend explore all the areas and do all the "achivements" wich grant you coins (exploring, Killing certain kind of Monsters, etc.) with wich you can unlock more and more of the game.

So if you realy whant to visite all the places and be a little Dwarf that wants to freely eyplore Middle Earth you can. But i would advice you that if you whant to see a fully grown "Uruk hai" you should remember that they sometimes bite.

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